Steamboat’s Kauf aiming for national championship
Women's qualification results
1 Jaelin Kauf, 79.91
2 Avital Shimko, 77.56
3 Lulu Shaffer, 76.03
4 Tess Johnson, 76.01
5 KC Oakley, 72.75
6 Heidi Kloser, 72.55
7 Elizabeth O'Connell, 72.50
8 Hallee Ray, 72.06
9 Morgan Schild, 71.93
10 Hannah Miles, 71.90
11 Gabriella Fisher, 68.32
12 Lane Stoltzner, 68.26
13 Madison Hogg, 66.49
14 Katie Coyne, 66.25
15 Aurora Amundsen, 65.81
16 Elissa Cole, 64.71
Steamboat Springs — Life, Steamboat Springs freestyle skier Jaelin Kauf said, has not changed much.
Plenty has, however, since she was here a year ago, competing then, as now, in the U.S. Freestyle National Championships at Steamboat Ski Area.
Then, she was a potential breakout athlete, the rookie of the year on the World Cup but, officially anyway, not yet a member of the U.S. Ski Team.
Now, not only is she on the team, she’s a World Cup winner, a World Championship medalist and one of the nation’s best medal hopes looking ahead to the 2018 Winter Olympics.
“The whole season has felt a little surreal,” she said Thursday.
Her exploits this winter earned her the No. 1 bib Thursday in the women’s qualification round on the first day of nationals. She showed how she earned it, too, laying down the top-scoring trip down Voodoo run at Steamboat Ski Area.
She scored in at 79.91, first among a strong group of contenders. Thursday’s top-16 skiers will vie for the national championship in Friday’s finals round.
The men’s qualifications will begin at 9:15 a.m. The women’s finals are set to start at 12:10 p.m., with the men’s finals right after, at 12:40.
Kauf will be last down among the women, hoping to build on an already strong season with what could be her first national championship. She was on the podium a year ago in dual moguls but is expecting more this season.
“Looking at the scores and where I finished up, I know I can win, and so I expect to be up there,” she said.
She had the day’s second-fastest time, was second in jumps and tied for first in turns.
She’s not the only local athlete in the hunt.
Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club skier Avital Shimko was second, just behind Kauf with a score of 77.56.
“I was really happy with my run, but I definitely have some room to improve for tomorrow,” Shimko said. “I need to clean up my exit out of the top air. After that happened, I just went for it, had a big bottom air and sold it.
“I’d love to podium. That’d be a big goal of mine.”
Shimko’s coming off a strong season on the Nor-Am circuit, where she placed third overall and won two events. She’s knocking on the door of the U.S. Ski Team, and a strong finish Friday or in Saturday’s dual moguls competition could put her on the squad.
“The national team is absolutely the goal,” Steamboat freestyle director Bobby Aldighieri said. “We don’t mince words about that, and it’s super possible. She’s really come on, and you’ll continue to see good things.”
Lulu Shaffer, skiing out of Stratton Mountain school, was third at 76.03.
U.S. Ski teamers Tess Johnson and KC Oakley were fourth and fifth. Vail Olympian Heidi Kloser was sixth.
Steamboat’s Lane Stoltzner also made finals, qualifying 12th. Teammate Maddie Ryan just missed, placing 18th. Riley Hodges, competing at nationals for the first time, fell and didn’t complete her run.
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